NOAA GUIDELINES (courtesy of NOAA) The following marine wildlife viewing guidelines are intended to help you enjoy watching marine wildlife without causing them harm or placing personal safety at risk. Please note that these are general guidelines and that the types of wildlife, local habitat conditions, and numbers of people present in an area may require local restrictions or closures to protect the wildlife. Always follow local and species-specific guidelines and regulations when available, and respect the rights of landowners and other wildlife viewers on your travels. Learn before you go. Read about the wildlife, viewing sites and local regulations to get the most from your wildlife viewing experience. Many species live only in specific habitats such as estuaries, coral reefs, sand dunes or the open ocean. Seasonal and daily cycles also influence when and where an animal may be located. Research on the internet, buy regional viewing guidebooks, talk with local residents and hire local guides to increase your chances of seeing marine wildlife.
Keep your distance. Use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with zoom lenses to get a closer look. Marine wildlife may be very sensitive to human disturbance, and if cornered, they can harm the viewer or leave the area. If wildlife approaches you, stay calm and slowly back away or place boat engines in neutral. When closer encounters occur, do not make sudden moves or obstruct the travel path of the animals – let them have the unhindered “right of way.” Hands off. Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife, or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk and may also be illegal for certain species. The slimy coating on fish and many marine invertebrates protects the animal from infection and is easily rubbed off with a hand, glove or foot. Avoid using gloves when diving or snorkeling to minimize the temptation to touch. Remember, wild animals may bite, body slam or even pull you underwater if startled or threatened.
Do not feed or attract marine wildlife. Feeding or attempting to attract wildlife with food, decoys, sound or light disrupts normal feeding cycles, may cause sickness or death from unnatural or contaminated food items, and habituates animals to people. Habituated animals are vulnerable to vessel strikes or vandalism, and can be dangerous to people.